Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, narrated by Reese Witherspoon, was a book that was anticipated by many and vilified by others, and I honestly had no desire to read it because of the hype. (I only picked up this audio because it was available at the library and I needed a new one.) Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, has returned to Maycomb, Ala., and her aging father, Atticus. As the civil rights movement gains speed and the NAACP continues to push for rights, the South balks at integration and federal government interference.
Witherspoon is the perfect choice in a narrator for the story, and it is not just about her ability to play Southern characters. She provides the right amount of empathy, emotion, and detachment needed by each of the characters to make them wholly different from one another, and yet still share similar experiences but view them differently. There are differences between this novel (which is said to be Lee’s first) and the previously published book (TKAM), and those differences can be stark, especially when there are outcomes in the previously published book that go very differently here. Those are things an editor should have attended to before publishing, but are not the main crux of this story.
This is not about the rape case that Atticus defended, this is about us as children and how we generally worship our parents in one way or another, only to be disappointed that they are humans and not gods. It’s a book about a young girl who worshiped her father, took in everything he said with little examination, and continued to apply it to her daily living. Scout has held her father to an impossible standard, and when she returns to find him at a council meeting — one in which she would expect him to protest not take part in — her images are shattered, and she is forced to not only reconcile what she thought she knew about her father but what she knew about herself.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, narrated by Reese Witherspoon, is a novel about finding the courage and strength to change and to help those around you do the same. The south was in the midst of heavy transitions when Scout returns, and while she was “blind” to the hearts of those around her, even when her eyes are opened to their motivations, it is clear she still has a lot to learn. The end seems to leave things wide open and unresolved in a way, like Scout’s journey is not finished.
About the Author:
Harper Lee, known as Nelle, was born in the Alabama town of Monroeville, the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Cunningham Finch Lee. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who served on the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.
After graduating from high school in Monroeville, Lee enrolled at the all-female Huntingdon College in Montgomery (1944-45), and then pursued a law degree at the University of Alabama (1945-50), pledging the Chi Omega sorority. While there, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, “Ramma-Jamma”. Though she did not complete the law degree, she studied for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC. Lee continued as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she devoted herself to writing. She lived a frugal life, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her father.
Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year’s wages with a note: “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Within a year, she had a first draft. Working with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959. Published July 11, 1960, the novel was an immediate bestseller and won great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller with more than 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by the Library Journal.
About the Narrator:
Laura Jeanne Reese Witherspoon, known professionally as Reese Witherspoon, is an American actress and producer. She began her career as a child actress, starring in The Man in the Moon in 1991. Witherspoon quickly established herself as a talented actress in films such as Pleasantville (1998), Election (1999) and Cruel Intentions (1999). While filming Cruel Intentions. Behind the camera, Witherspoon launched her own production company Pacific Standard in 2012, which was behind the 2014 films Gone Girl and Wild. The latter, based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed, stars Witherspoon as a woman who takes to the road after the death of her mother. Witherspoon has earned raves for the role, receiving Oscar, Golden Globe, and SAG Awards nominations.